Hazardous Effects of Paraffin Candles and Lead Wicks

Hazardous Effects of Paraffin Candles

Flaming candles made from paraffin wax –– the most common kind used to infuse rooms with tender ambiance, warmth, light, and fragrance –– is an unrecognized rise of exposure to indoor air pollution, including the known individual carcinogens, scientists report. Levels can build up in closed rooms, and be reduced by ventilation, they indicated in a haunt presented at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Brotherhood (ACS).

In the study, R. Massoudi Ph.D., and Amid Hamidi , Ph.D., said that that candles made from beeswax or soy, although more high-priced, apparently are healthier. They do not release potentially harmful amounts of indoor air pollutants while retaining all of the ebullience, ambience and fragrance of paraffin candles (which are made from petroleum).

"An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely act upon you," Hamidi said. "But lighting many paraffin candles every day for years or lighting them again in an unventilated bathroom around a tub, for example, may cause problems."
Besides the more serious risks, he also suggested that some people who imagine they have an indoor allergy or respiratory irritation may in fact absolutely be reacting to air pollutants from burning candles.

Source: American Chemical Society


David Krause, an air quality engineer and former employee of the Florida Department of Health, says that the soot given off from the burning of paraffin candles is the same as that given off by burning diesel fuel. Some of the air contaminants in paraffin fumes include toluene, benzene, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), and naphthalene -- substances found in paint, lacquer and varnish removers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that benzene and toluene are probable human carcinogens. The state of California, under its Proposition 65 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, has identified at least seven major toxins in paraffin wax including the carcinogen benzene.

Source: Healthy & Natural Journal, Oct, 2000 by Vicki L. Elmore


Detrimental Effects of Lead Wicks

Even the wicks of some candles can cause problems - they may have a lead or other type of metal core that release toxic emissions during burning.
About 30 percent of the candles on the market have lead core wicks. Lead and zinc are metals commonly used in the core of the wicks. The metal makes the wicks stand up straight making candle manufacturing easier. The University of Michigan conducted a study which showed that one-third of the candles tested from the United States and overseas released more lead into the air than is recommended as safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study also showed the amounts of lead in the air increased the longer the candles burned.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has also determined that candles using lead wicks could present a lead poisoning hazard to young children. Studies have found that despite a voluntary industry agreement in the past to remove lead from candle wicks, a small percentage of candles sold today still contains lead in their wicks. The lead cores are used to hold the wicks upright as they burn. The study found that lead-core wicks could emit relatively large amounts of lead into the air during burning. The emitted lead presents a risk to children from exposure through inhalation and from ingestion of lead that may settle on surfaces in the room. This deposited lead could remain accessible to a child for an extended period of time and allow exposure through direct mouthing of surfaces or objects or by hand-to-mouth contact. Some of the candles emitted lead levels in excess of 2,200 micrograms per hour - about five times the rate that could lead to elevated levels of lead in a child. CPSC estimates that a level of 430 micrograms per hour could result in hazardous exposure to children.

The CPSC found that burning a candle with a lead wick for four hours per day, for 15 to 30 days, could result in blood lead levels above the 10 micrograms per deciliter that is considered a health concern for young children.

Lead poisoning in children is associated with behavioural problems, learning disabilities, hearing problems and growth retardation. Because lead accumulates in the body, even exposure to small amounts of lead can contribute to the overall level of lead in the blood. It is estimated that approximately 1 in every 25 children under the age of 6 in the United States has elevated levels of lead in their blood; that is almost one million children nationwide. The primary source of lead poisoning in the United States is lead from paint in old homes.

Sources: Healthy & Natural Journal, Oct, 2000 by Vicki L. Elmore and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Feb, 2001